Friday, October 15, 2021

Heritage Foundation Names Kevin Roberts as Next President

Here is more from the Heritage Foundation:

The Heritage Foundation today announced Dr. Kevin Roberts will become the seventh president in the think tank’s 48-year history. Roberts will succeed President Kay C. James later this year when he takes the helm of America’s premier conservative think tank.

Roberts currently serves as the chief executive officer of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), an Austin-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute and the largest state think tank in the nation. Under Roberts’ leadership, TPPF more than doubled in size. He also expanded the Texas think tank’s influence nationwide, opening an office in Washington, D.C., so that TPPF research might better inform federal policy debates.

James, who has served as Heritage president since 2018, will continue to serve on the Board of Trustees, a role she’s held since 2005. She says she looks forward to remaining active as a distinguished visiting fellow at Heritage and in the conservative movement going forward.

 

RealClearPolitics writer Philip Wegmann notes that Roberts, who was chosen from a list of more than 100 names, is a "DC outsider."  

Wegmann says that former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was interested in the top post at Heritage but didn't make the final cut.  Former Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia and former Vice President Mike Pence were also considered for the position.

The Hill notes that while the think tank's influence waned during the Trump era, it is still a well-known conservative organization that will likely play a significant role in the 2022 midterm elections and 2024 presidential election.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#429)

  • Heidi Shierholz named as new president of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
  • Open Society Foundation is undergoing restructuring, causing a major shift in partnerships with think tanks. 
  • Cato Institute demands probe records in suit against FBI, DOJ.
  • Georgetown technology security policy think tank CSET received a $42 million grant to self-fund through 2025.  Established in 2019, the center's total funding is now over $100 million.
  • Simeon Djankov, ex-World Bank official under scrutiny on China, now works at PIIE.
  • New report: China bought influence at Indian think tanks.
  • Mattathias Schwartz: "I spent 5 years inside DC's foreign policy blob and here's why the experts keep getting the US into unwinnable wars like Afghanistan."
  • Sen. Todd Young was a low-level assistant at the Heritage Foundation on Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Pacific Forum cancelled webinar on US-Australia relations after receiving backlash for having a "manpanel." 
  • Parody site Duffel Blog: "National security think tanks launch surprise assault on Kabul."

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Think Tankers Joining New Group Focused on Emerging Technology

Here is more from Politico:

ERIC SCHMIDT, the former Google CEO, is launching a new initiative called the Special Competitive Studies Project — inspired by the Rockefeller Special Studies Project of the late 1950s — to “make recommendations to strengthen America’s long‐term global competitiveness for a future where artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies reshape our national security, economy, and society,” according to a news release.

Joining Schmidt on the SCSP’s board are ROBERT WORK, former deputy secretary of Defense and National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence co-chair; Schadlow, former deputy national security adviser for strategy; MICHÈLE FLOURNOY, former undersecretary of Defense for policy; and MAC THORNBERRY, former House Armed Services Committee chair. YLLI BAJRAKTARI will be the SCSP’s chief executive officer.

 

Nadia Schadlow, former Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy, will also be joining the board.  Schadlow is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Robert Work is the Distinguished Senior Fellow for Defense and National Security and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  He previously spent one year as CEO of the think tank.

Michele Flournoy co-founded CNAS, and Mac Thornberry recently joined RAND Corporation as an Adjunct Senior Fellow.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Think Tankers Exploiting Loopholes in Congress's New Conflict of Interest Rules

Here is an excerpt from The New Republic (TNR):

I recently reached out to more than two dozen nongovernment witnesses who testified in the first eight months of 2021, contacted 14 House committee staffers, and analyzed all of the accessible witness disclosures online. I found that even the enhanced [disclosure] rules continue to have significant loopholes that undermine the push for greater transparency. It’s still all too common for think tank–affiliated witnesses to sidestep the enhanced disclosure rules by claiming they’re not representing their organizations but merely testifying on their own behalf, thereby bypassing the need to disclose any federal or foreign funding that might influence their testimony.

[New America CEO] Anne-Marie Slaughter is hardly alone in this regard. Three other witnesses affiliated with New America also claimed to represent themselves, not the think tank, in testimony before House committees this year. The same is true for many of their peers at other think tanks who have testified in 2021. This despite the fact that House Democrats, to better identify potential conflicts of interest, in January strengthened the rules about what nongovernment witnesses must disclose prior to their testimony, now requiring that they divulge their ties with all relevant organizations, including any foreign or federal funding those organizations received that is related to the subject matter of the hearing.

 

The article notes that the US House first adopted the Truth in Testimony rule in 1997 as part of a conservative led effort to identify witnesses dependent upon federal funding.  At that time, the rule only asked witnesses to disclose any grants or contracts they had with the federal government.  It was amended in 2015 to require witnesses to also disclose any foreign funding that they or their organization had received.  The Truth in Testimony rule was further tightened in Jan. 2021.

The US Senate currently does not have any rule requiring nongovernmental witnesses to disclose potential conflicts of interest before they testify.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Think Tanks Distance Themselves from Hungary Money

Here is more from the New York Times:

Last year, two prominent foreign policy think tanks in Washington severed ties with the Hungary Foundation, a group funded by the Hungarian government, amid concerns about its connections.

To finance some of the efforts in the US, [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban’s government authorized the creation and funding of a nonprofit group in 2012 that would come to be known as the Hungary Foundation.

It has donated more than $5.2 million through the end of last year to think tanks, conservative groups, colleges and Hungarian-American organizations.  
[Hungarian Foundation] executive director Anna Smith Lacey appeared at exclusive gatherings with US officials overseeing Central Europe organized by recipients of foundation grants, including the Atlantic Council and the Center for European Policy Analysis, each of which had received more than $200,000 from the Hungary Foundation.

 

The article goes on to note that in 2020, Atlantic Council returned a $158,000 grant and ended its relationship with the Hungary Foundation.  CEPA also ended its relationship with the foundation amid concerns about its ties to Mr. Orban as well as a potential conflict between diplomat Kurt Volker's role as a board member of the foundation and a fellow at CEPA.

Here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece about Hungary sponsoring English-language think tanks to promote Orban.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#428)

  • The America First Policy Institute (AFPI) names former SBA Administrator Linda McMahon as chair of its new Center for the American Worker.
  • "Think Tank 2022 Rally of Hope," hosted by Universal Peace Federation (UPF), held on 9/11.
  • Ken Cuccinelli is now senior fellow for immigration and homeland security at the Center for Renewing America, the think tank run by former Trump OMB Director Russ Vought.
  • Carnegie launches Indian Ocean Initiative. 
  • James Steinberg named new dean of SAIS at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Third Way is out with a $750,000 campaign praising 11 House members for their work on clean energy job creation and combating climate change.
  • Patrick Costello named new CEO of American Security Project after 11 years at CFR.
  • Defense Priorities: "A think tank urging military restraint."
  • Rush Doshi: "Kurt Campbell has mentored enough Asia hands over the last 25 years to staff a half dozen think tanks."
  • Father Lazlow Ladany was a Hungarian-born Jesuit priest and one-man think tank who spent a lifetime poring through official [Chinese] Party sources.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Think Tank Chief Quits After Violently Attacking Wife

Here is more from Politico:

Jerry Taylor, the co-founder and president of the Niskanen Center, recently resigned from the Washington, D.C.-based think tank after being charged with violently attacking his wife, according to court records obtained by POLITICO.

Taylor, who previously had been a longtime top official of the Cato Institute, was arrested in early June on a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery of a family member in Arlington, Va.

 He denies the accusations, but says he pleaded guilty in exchange for the charges being dismissed as long as he successfully completes a domestic violence and substance abuse prevention program.

 

According to Politico, the board at Niskanen was made aware of the incident in early September and immediately put Taylor on administrative leave.  He resigned on September 6.  Taylor co-founded Niskanen in 2014.

Joseph Coon, a co-founder of Niskanen, is now the interim president of the think tank.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Food & Beverage Companies Funding Think Tanks

The Atlantic Council has the usual donor mix of large defense corporations, technology companies, and foreign governments that a typical major think tank would have.

But over the years it has had an eclectic mix of food and beverage donors, including Starbucks (which gave $100,000 - $250,000 in 2018), Total Wine & More (which gave $100,000 to $250,000), Cafe Milano ($50,000 - $100,000), Chobani ($25,000 - $50,000), Coca-Cola, and Nestle.

An Atlantic Council spokesperson tells Think Tank Watch that the Cafe Milano donation is related to Franco Nuschese, who is a board director of the Atlantic Council and provides in-kind support with the use of his restaurant for leadership dinners and other private events. 

 

The donation from Total Wine is related to the think tank's former International Advisory Board member David Trone, who stepped down from that position when he was elected to the US Congress.  

 

The contribution from Chobani, according to an Atlantic Council spokesman, was in relation to the Global Citizen Awards when Atlantic Council honored Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya for his commitment to philanthropy and helping refugees. 

 

A number of other food-related entities contribute to think tanks.  One example is the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is a donor to the Brookings InstitutionPepsiCo, another Brookings donor, also gives to other think tanks like the Aspen Institute and the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE).

 

Pernod Ricard, a worldwide producer of wines and spirits, in a donor to the Wilson CenterMcDonald's Corp. is a donor to the Aspen Institute.  And Japan's Kikkoman Foods, a soy sauce producer, is a donor to PIIE.

 

Besides the Atlantic Council, Coca-Cola gives to other policy shops such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  Other donors to CSIS include Kikkoman and Kellogg's.


To be sure, donations to think tank land from the food and beverage industry are nothing new.  Joseph Coors of the Coors Brewing Company was a founding member and primary funder of the Heritage Foundation in its early years.


And at least up until the COVID pandemic, food (notably the humble think tank cookie) was the fuel that kept think tankers motivated and helped attract think tank event attendees to the thousands of talks that took place every year.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Pandemic Changes DC Think Tank Landscape

The COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the think tank landscape in Washington, DC, altering the way think tanks operate and leaving many to question whether a physical think tank space is even needed.

Here is more from the Wall Street Journal:

The 61-square-mile U.S. capital relies heavily on the federal government as its biggest employer—and officials have signaled that remote work is here to stay. That effect is trickling down to the legion of businesses in the government’s orbit, with some federal contractors, lobbyists and think tanks offering similar flexibility.

Still unknown is how many of D.C’s workers, in the government and beyond, will be back full-time after the pandemic.

The glad-handing, Capitol Hill visits and long lunches of K Street have no virtual equivalent. Some policy shops—including the 450-employee Brookings Institution—have said they want their employees living in the Washington metropolitan area. That has prompted some workers to quit, one former employee said.

A Brookings spokeswoman said the institution’s collaborative environment greatly benefits from in-person interactions, and added that Brookings is exploring accommodating employees who want to live farther afield.

[Then there is think tanker Ben Freeman.]  One unknown is that his employer, the Center for International Policy, left its office space during the pandemic and decided to become “a think tank without walls” for the foreseeable future, Mr. Freeman said.

 

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on private salons replacing think tank events.

Think tankers and think event attendees are eagerly awaiting the opening of some think tanks so that they can begin sinking their teeth into those much-loved think tank cookies.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#427)

  • Former chair of the House Armed Services Committee Mac Thornberry has joined RAND Corporation as an adjunct senior fellow. 
  • Rebekah Koffler: US "experts" who created Afghanistan mess (including think tankers), should be fired for malpractice.
  • Heritage Action is launching an $860,000 digital ad campaign opposing Democrats' proposed inclusion of language from H.R. 3 in the reconciliation package as a pay-for. 
  • Human resources at RAND Corp. approved the relationship between two of RAND's employees that eventually led to marriage.
  • Is the UAE buying silence at US think tanks?
  • Israeli, Bahraini think tanks to cooperate on setting up network in Persian Gulf area.
  • Trumpies now doing think tanking.
  • Oregon think tank sues to block state legislative staff union.
  • New think tank for debt collection issues in California.
  • IBM Center for the Business of Government: "An independent business think tank that focuses on management issues in the US federal government."

Friday, September 24, 2021

Military Contractor CACI Funding Pro-War Think Tank

With the US withdraw of troops from Afghanistan, there have been numerous pieces written about how a number of think tanks over the years have taken donations from defense contractors while promoting the benefits of war in certain countries.

Here is the latest example, from Sarah Lazare of In These Times:

On August 12, the military contractor CACI International Inc. told its investors that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is hurting its profits. The same contractor is also funding a think tank that is concurrently arguing against the withdrawal. This case is worth examining both because it is routine, and because it highlights the venality of our expert”-military contractor feedback loop, in which private companies use think tanks to rally support for wars they’ll profit from.

CACI International is listed as a corporate sponsor” of the Institute for Study of War, which describes itself as a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy research organization.” Dr. Warren Phillips, lead director of CACI International, is on the board of the think tank. (Other funders include General Dynamics and Microsoft.)

In an August 20 paper, the think tank argued that Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey are weighing how to take advantage of the United States’ hurried withdrawal.”  Jack Keane, a retired four star general and board member of the Institute for Study of War, meanwhile, has been on a cable news blitz arguing against the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War, told Fox News on August 17 that the U.S. withdrawal could cause Afghanistan to become the second school of jihadism.”

 

Separately, Eli Clifton has outlined other think tanks that CACI has funded, including the Center for Security Policy (CSP).

Meanwhile, former think tanker Mattathias Schwartz wrote a piece for Business Insider entitled "I spent 5 Years Inside DC's Foreign Policy 'Blob.' Here's why the experts keep getting us into unwinnable wars in Afghanistan.

Here is a quote from that piece: "What I didn't do was actually go to Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, I ate free buffet lunches, collected business cards, and mainlined off-the-record propaganda that both of America's long-running wars were worthy undertakings, steered by capable hands."

Here is another quote:  "Into one end of the Blob goes the money — gifts from corporations, wealthy individuals, and, in some cases, foreign governments. Out the other end comes white papers, books, op-ed articles, salaries, fellowships, and panel discussions."

Monday, September 20, 2021

Intelligence Contract Funneled to CSIS

Here is more from The Intercept:

In 2018, when the government awarded a massive $769 million contract to Alion Science and Technology, a defense contractor, the company promised that the money would go to “cutting edge” intelligence and technological solutions “that directly support the warfighter.”

The Alion contract supports work from the Remote Sensing Center, an intelligence hub that assists the military with ground, maritime, and airborne intelligence. Much of the work, records show, went to subcontractors such as Venntel, a firm that hoovers up location data from smartphones, and Leidos, a technology firm that services a variety of weapons systems and intelligence agencies.

But part of the money embedded in that contract also flowed to the nation’s foremost hawkish think tanks, which routinely advocate for higher Pentagon budgets and a greater projection of America’s military force.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, and the Pacific Forum are just two of the independent research institutes that were given parts of the $769 million to Alion Science as subcontractors. (The others — the Russia Research Network Limited, Center for Advanced China Research, and Center for European Policy Analysis — are less prominent.) The indirect funding, channeled through a contract meant for advancing the government’s warfighting ability, is unusual among the many Pentagon grants that flow to research institutes.

 

The Intercept quotes Jack Poulson, the founder of watchdog group Tech Inquiry, as saying that the commingling of projects appeared to be "blurring the lines between think tanks and intelligence contractors." 

The article also notes that the Hudson Institute received nearly $400,000 from a Pentagon contract to produce a report on aircraft defense.  It also says that the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has received more than $1 million in funding from the Pentagon.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Carnegie Names Tino Cuéllar as New President

Dr. Mariano-Florentino “Tino” Cuéllar, Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, has been named as Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's 10th president in its 111-year history. 

He served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations.   Previously he was the Stanley Morrison Professor at Stanford Law School and Director of Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

He replaces William Burns, who stepped down earlier this year to become Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Biden Administration.  Burns had been president of the think tank since 2014.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#426)

  • US Navy keeps closer watch on Chinese submarines, says Beijing-based think tank South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI).
  • Analysts with Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) using AI tools from Orbital Insight to track Iranian nuclear site.
  • MIT predicted in 1972 that society will collapse this century. New research shows we're on schedule.
  • How money politics runs behind US think tanks' approach to Taiwan.
  • India's homegrown think tanks are booming, influencing debate and policy. 
  • Scottish Centre on European Relations is ending its activities.
  • Daily Beast: A dark money think tank analyst working for Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin's office and campaign urges violence against law enforcement on social media.
  • Why we need more African think tanks to study the US.
  • The Lown Institute: "A nonpartisan health care think tank based in Boston."
  • Pic: Atlantic Council's summer social.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Backlash Fiece as Carnegie Hosts Former Trump Official

Here is more from Politico:

The most D.C. of mini-scandals is happening right now: A think tank is hosting a book event for a former Trump administration national security official who tweeted support for those questioning the 2020 election results.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has invited ELBRIDGE COLBY, author of “The Strategy of Denial,” to join a Sept. 15 panel to discuss his work and U.S. policy toward China.

The backlash has been fierce. “I continue to be disappointed in how the foreign policy community polices its own on a number of fronts, but particularly when it comes to attacks on democracy in the United States. We can do better,” tweeted LOREN DEJONGE SCHULMAN, a former NSC official in the Obama administration.

 

Here is a recent Think Tank Watch post on Colby leading the conservative effort to prepare for a US war with China.

Colby is co-founder and principal at The Marathon Initiative, which calls itself a think tank.  He has held several positions at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), most recently as Director of the Defense Program, where he led the think tank's work on defense issues.

He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

Thursday, September 9, 2021

American Generals Cashed in at Think Tanks After Afghanistan

Here is more from the Washington Post:

[US Generals] including Stanley McChrystal, who sought and supervised the 2009 American troop surge — have thrived in the private sector since leaving the war. They have amassed influence within businesses, at universities and in think tanks, in some cases selling their experience in a conflict that killed an estimated 176,000 people, cost the United States more than $2 trillion and concluded with the restoration of Taliban rule.

Last year, retired Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who commanded American forces in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, joined the board of Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon's biggest defense contractor. Retired Gen. John R. Allen, who preceded him in Afghanistan, is president of the Brookings Institution, which has received as much as $1.5 million over the last three years from Northrop Grumman, another defense giant.

 

Writer Adam Johnson notes that every couple of years the Washington Post and New York Times write an investigative piece "explicitly saying or heavily implying that foreign policy think tanks are laundromats for weapons contractors then 5 minutes later they institutionally memory hole it and go back to treating them as neutral sources."

Monday, September 6, 2021

Private Salons Replacing Think Tank Talks?

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to put the kibosh on most in-person think tank events, people have started to turn to private salons or "smarty parties" to get their in-person intellectual stimulation.

Here is more from the New York Times:

Across the country individuals and companies are staging their own salons. They may resemble cocktail parties or seminars or networking events — and some are sponsored, as the SoHo salon was, by St. Germain liqueur (the brand also conceived and co-hosted the event). But they are distinguished from those other events in one important way: all participants are expected to partake in communal, meaty conversations while having fun at the same time.

Historically, salons have become popular after dark periods, said Jesse Browner, author of the 2003 book “The Duchess Who Wouldn’t Sit Down: An Informal History of Hospitality.” One of the very first salons, hosted in Paris by a marquess named Catherine de Vivonne, happened in the early 1600s after a period of religious warfare.

 

There have always been private salons taking place in Washington, DC and elsewhere, but there now seems to be a proliferation as such gatherings as people try to break the monotony of Zoom fatigue and working from home and seek deeper human interaction.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#425)

  • Sarah Ladislaw, managing director at RMI, a clean energy-focused think tank formerly known as the Rocky Mountain Institute, denies that her testimony when she worked at CSIS was influenced by Exxon’s financial support for CSIS.
  • Chatham House "goes woke" as it awards Greta Thunberg and BLM.
  • Think tank diplomacy with Melissa Conley Tyler.
  • How the Atlantic Council's "domestic extremism" lays the foundations for shadow governance.
  • CGD: India's COVID-19 death toll may be millions higher than the official tally.
  • Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project: More than 15 million people in 6.5 million US households are behind on rental payments.
  • Think tanks weigh in to federal bank regulators about potential pitfalls in the use of AI and machine learning in making loan decisions. 
  • To one expert, the Trump Administration's approach to government benefits was to ask, "'Who does the policy in this space?' and they went straight for the most radical think tanks."
  • Matt Duss: "By 2025, 50% of all foreign policy writing will be things from the Quincy Institute or comically tendentious misrepresentations of things from the Quincy Institute."
  • Pic: Son of AEI president Robert Doar gets married.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Think Tank Chief Lobbying for the US to Engage with North Korea

 Here is more from Josh Rogin of the Washington Post:

Kim Ki-jung, former Moon adviser who is now president of the Institute for National Security Strategy, a government-funded think tank, told me in an interview that [President Joe] Biden must recognize there is an opening and act boldly [on negotiations with North Korea].

 

The Institute for National Security Strategy (INSS) was founded in 1977, and has more than a dozen North Korean defectors as well as around 50 experts as in-house researchers.  Reports indicate that INSS is an affiliate of South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS).

Kim Ki-jung was chosen as new president of the think tank in 2020, raising eyebrows due to his close relationship to President Moon Jae-in and the fact that he was embroiled in misconduct allegations in the past.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

CAP Warning Dems Over Biden Agenda

Here is more from Politico:

One of the most powerful Democratic-allied groups in D.C. is warning party members that they risk leaving women voters behind if they don’t back President Joe Biden’s social spending package.

The Center for American Progress is pressing Democratic lawmakers to keep the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package as close to its original blueprint as possible, arguing that it’s vital for helping women workers hit hard by the pandemic. Simply passing an infrastructure bill, the group warns, would create a massive divergence in the economic recovery along gender lines.

Here is the Center for American Progress (CAP) memo that Politico is basing its reporting on.  The think tank has stocked the Biden Administration with dozens of policy wonks.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Think Tanker Leading Conservative Effort to Prepare for US-China War

Here is an excerpt more from a new New Yorker piece:

Elbridge Colby, a fortysomething graduate of Yale Law School, was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development in the Trump Administration. Amid many people saying roughly the same thing about the now-ending generational conflict over Islamic extremism, Colby is distinguished by a vision of the generational conflict to come. In his view, idealism and Afghanistan are both sideshows to the real military, economic, and diplomatic action—all of which concerns China.

Elbridge Colby goes by Bridge. To his patrician name, add a patrician face (long nose, side-parted sandy hair) and a patrician legacy: his grandfather, William Colby, was Nixon’s C.I.A. director, and his father, Jonathan Colby, is a senior adviser in the Carlyle Group, the defense-friendly private-equity giant. Bridge nearly overlapped at Harvard College with Tom Cotton, and at Yale Law School with Josh Hawley. He was considered for a role as a foreign-policy adviser to Jeb Bush in 2015; according to the Wall Street Journal, campaign operatives torpedoed his chance to be Bush’s foreign-policy director by raising concerns that he was insufficiently hawkish about Iran. Colby arrived at Trump’s Pentagon as an aide to the President’s first Secretary of Defense, General Jim Mattis.


Colby is co-founder and principal at The Marathon Initiative, which calls itself a think tank.  He has held several positions at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), most recently as Director of the Defense Program, where he led the think tank's work on defense issues.

He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

Friday, August 20, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#424)

  • National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) launches Emerging Technologies Institute (ETI). 
  • FP event: Can local think tanks save democracy?
  • Ron Dermer, the former Israeli ambassador to the US, joins Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) as a distinguished fellow.
  • Atlantic Council has a new Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Tracker.
  • After bucking Canadian government and Chinese pressure and giving award to Taiwan's president, Halifax International Security Form (HFX) to host major event in Taiwan.
  • ASPI: It's time for an independent think tank on Pacific security and foreign policy.
  • PPI's "Investment Heroes 2021" shows Amazon with largest capital expenditure in US.
  • CSIS tracks new Chinese aircraft carrier via satellite.
  • InfluenceMap: "A London-based think tank that tracks corporate climate lobbying."
  • At 93, civic leader Malin Burnham launches a "think-and-do tank" in San Diego, California.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Will Artificial Intelligence Replace Think Tanks?

While it appears that most of the think tank community is safe for now, artificial intelligence (AI) is getting so good that it may one day be able to replace think tanks altogether.

As Axios recently pointed out, the startup Primer is offering natural language processing (NLP) models for businesses that can rapidly read and analyze written text of all kinds.  It also notes that businesses are creating digital workers out of software bots.  Here are a few other things AI can now do:

  • AI has the ability to display human-like qualities such as reasoning, learning, planning, and creativity.  It can also see, hear, speak, smell, touch, move, and understand.
  • AI can read text, write it, and even convert it into computer code (check out AI21 Labs' Jurassic-1 Jumbo and OpenAI's Codex).  Here is some of the best AI writing-assistant software.
  • The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press, and Reuters have used AI for years to generate content via natural language generation (NLG).
  • AI can successfully debate humans in complex subjects (see IBM's Project Debater).
  • Neural networks are providing automated feedback.
  • Software like Synthesia allows one to create AI-generated videos from text in 40+ languages; it also allows you to create your own think tanker avatar.

But all this new technology doesn't necessarily mean that think tanking will be dead soon.  Here is an excerpt from a recent piece by National University of Singapore professor Atreyi Kankanhalli:

In my view, almost all...research tasks are currently not replaceable by AI. While AI can support search of references for literature review and discovery of patterns from data, it fails considerably in research problem identification and theory building, since these activities require semantic understanding that AI is currently not capable of. While AI could assist in data analysis, understanding the contributions of the work requires human interpretation. Similarly, for the writing process, AI mainly provides tools for preparing an initial publication draft – helpful in some science fields, which are more structured than humanities fields. Further, in the near future AI tools may not be able to replace our research activities because they lack semantic understanding, where little progress has been made so far.

 

The immediate impact of AI, for those who embrace it, will likely mean researchers can enhance their analysis with powerful tools to sift through enormous amounts of data and speed up a number of tasks.

In the coming months, Think Tank Watch will be establishing what is believed to be the first AI-run think tank to see if it can legitimately replace certain traditional think tanks.  One major benefit is that the new think tank will not be biased by outside funders, a problem with nearly every major think tank to date.

As reported last year, there is even a new ranking of think tanks that uses AI to make its determination.  There are also a number of think tanks that study AI.  Georgetown University recently created the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET), which has a big AI focus.  CSET received a $55 million grant from the Open Philanthropy Project, a nonprofit research and grant-making group.

Here is a piece by Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) Research Director Kunihiko Miyake entitled "In the age of AI, think tanks must evolve."

Here is a piece from Bruegel Director Guntram Wolff entitled "Artificial Intelligence: An Opporunity and a Challenge for Think Tanks."

And for any think tankers thinking about a new job, you can always check the site Will Robots Take My Job? to find out how susceptible your new job would be to computerization.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Think Tank Beats Harassment Claims

Here is more from Bloomberg:

The former finance and administration director with the Middle East Forum failed to show her boss sexually harassed her, a federal jury in Philadelphia found.

Marnie O’Brien alleged in a December 2019 lawsuit that Middle East Forum Director Gregg Roman told her that “he likes older woman” and that “non-Jewish women were made for sex.” Roman also inquired into her dating life and discussed his marital problems and sex life, according to O’Brien.

But a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania decided Aug. 6 after a seven-day trial that O’Brien didn’t present enough evidence.

 

The Middle East Forum (MEF) is a Philadelphia-based think tank founded in 1994 by Daniel Pipes.  Georgetown University has called it a "right-wing anti-Islam think tank that spreads misinformation and advocates hawkish foreign policy."

The Center for American Progress (CAP) has called it a "controversial far-right think tank that is known for its anti-Islam views and hawkish foreign policy recommendations."

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#423)

  • Business Insider: At least 99 former Trump officials have establishment ties with prominent lobbying shops, law firms, think tanks, or big business. 
  • PIIE's Gagnon & Sarsenbayev: Nobody forecasts inflation well.
  • South Korea's atomic energy think tank exposed to presumed North Korean hacking.
  • DC Circuit rejects Cato Institute lawsuit over SEC "gag" rule.
  • Longtime C-SPAN anchor Steve Scully to depart for bipartisan think tank. 
  • Trump alum Matthew Pottinger is now chair of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies' China Program.
  • Cecilia Malmstrom joins PIIE.
  • The Bulwark: What the hell happened to the Claremont Institute?
  • Taiwan, Czech think tanks ink MOU on defense research cooperation.
  • No one wants to be friends with a professor.  What about a think tanker?

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Chinese Think Tanks Slam US COVID Response

Three Chinese think tanks have just published a hard-hitting new report bashing the US for its COVID-19 response and calling the US a "failed country."

The report, entitled "America Ranked First?! The Truth About America's Fight Against COVID-19," was jointly released by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of the Renmin University of China (RDCY), the Taihe Institute, and the Intellisia Institute.

Here is more from the Global Times:

A 23,000-word report has been released in Chinese, English, Spanish and French, and is also the first to comprehensively show the truth about the US anti-epidemic fight, based on rigorous studies, objective and factual data from US research institutes, media outlets and politicians, Wang Wen, executive dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China (RDCY), told a press conference on Monday.

[The report] indicates that the US deserves to be the world's No.1 anti-pandemic failure, apart from being the No.1 political blaming country, No.1 pandemic spreader country, No.1 political division country, No.1 currency abuse country, No.1 pandemic period turmoil country, No.1 disinformation country and No.1 origins-tracing terrorism country.

 

The three think tanks held an event along with the release of the 70-page report.  Keynote speakers included former Senior Fellow at Cambridge University Martin Jacques, and Washington Bureau Chief for the Executive Intelligence Review (EIR) William Jones.

Newsweek notes that the paper featured multiple spelling errors and a disjointed structure, and offered "no evidence to back up several damning claims."

Monday, August 9, 2021

Hungary Sponsoring English-Language Think Tanks to Promote Orban

Here is more from The Atlantic:

Just as Hungary now sponsors English-language think tanks designed to promote [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orbán’s illiberal ideas, so did the Soviet Union once create phony “institutes for peace” designed to promote Soviet Communism. The idea in both cases was and is the same: Lure in foreigners who are bored, disgruntled, or underpaid at home; offer meals, attention, and sometimes more.

 

Here is what Vox had to say last year: "The Hungarian government has actively cultivated support from...international conservatives. John O’Sullivan, an Anglo-American contributor to National Review, is currently based at the Danube Institute — a think tank in Budapest that O’Sullivan admits receives funding from the Hungarian government."

Vox also noted that Chris DeMuth, the former head of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), interviewed Orbán onstage at a conference, praising the prime minister in opening remarks as “not only a political but an intellectual leader.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported on a think tank called Veritas, whose "main mission is to provide revisionist interpretations of 20th-century Hungarian history."  It has also reported on an "ecosystem" of Hungarian foundations and government-affiliated think tanks which have received $3.5 billion in public money in the past year.

After Orban’s return to power, a government-funded think-tank called the Center for Fundamental Rights was created in 2013, according to FT. 

Friday, August 6, 2021

Think Tanks' Impact on Policy in Turbulent Times

FP Analytics (FPA), the independent research division of Foreign Policy magazine, has published a new report entitled "Navigating Through Turbulence," which explores think tanks' impact on policy in a rapidly changing world.

Here is more on the report from FPA:

The last few years have seen rises in authoritarianism, economic protectionism, poverty, and threats to human rights and civil liberties, trends that were all further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Efforts to combat such trends take many forms, but this report is particularly concerned with the role and impact of think tanks given their capacity to understand, explain, and shape these trends. Such organizations have proliferated globally since the 1990s, but there has been limited research and a lack of consensus regarding how successful they are in counteracting these negative trends. To explore this topic, FP Analytics conducted an in-depth survey and semi-structured interviews with think tank personnel to highlight the experiences and viewpoints of the think tank staff working on the ground to advance democracy, economic openness, human rights, and poverty reduction in their home countries.

 

For the research, FPA interviewed 51 senior think tank leaders from around the world and surveyed another 322 from 80 different countries.

Think Tank Watch should note that the study appears somewhat biased because it relied heavily on the Atlas Network, an umbrella for libertarian and free-market groups, for its think tank outreach.  FPA notes that around 12% of of final sample of 322 respondents consists of responses from staff at think tanks outside of those from the Atlas Network.  In other words, people from the Atlas Network make up 88% of responses.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Kleptocracies Using Think Tanks for Reputation Laundering

A new paper by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) says that kleptocracies are using universities and think tanks for reputation laundering.

Here is an excerpt:

Universities and think tanks in open settings are prime targets for reputation laundering. The rapid internationalization of the higher education sector, as well as the swelling demand worldwide for Western education makes academic institutions particularly vulnerable to this form of transnational kleptocratic activity. Indeed, over recent years, there has been a major surge of foreign funding to U.S. and U.K. universities. The composition of fundraising has also changed. Major gifts comprise a growing share of donations, and a relatively small number of wealthy individuals contribute nearly 80 percent of gift-giving to universities.

A recent Foreign Policy article draws upon a new database of philanthropic donations and finds that in recent decades, seven post-Soviet oligarchs have together donated between $372 million and $435 million to U.S.-based not-for-profit institutions, including universities, museums, cultural centers, and think tanks.

 

NED cites the Foreign Policy article as a forthcoming piece written by Casey Michel and David Szakonyi entitled "Oligarchs and Philanthropy."  The figures, however, have already been published elsewhere, and come from the Anti-Corruption Data Collective (ACDC).  Michel is an adjunct fellow with the Hudson Institute's Kleptocracy Initiative, and Szakonyi is an assistant professor of political science at George Washington University.

Michel recently wrote a piece entitled "Illicit Temptation: "Funding of Universities and Think Tanks During COVID-19," which says that think tanks have been reliant on "questionable funding, including donations from oligarchs and other figures from kleptocratic settings, without any required due diligence mechanisms in place."

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#422)

  • Daily Caller: Jeffrey Epstein friend, client (Leslie Wexner) still a trustee of Aspen Institute.
  • Oregon think tank threatens to sue over state capitol workers union vote. 
  • UK's Policy Foundation: Everything you wanted to know about think tanks but were afraid to ask.
  • Carnegie Europe and Thomas de Waal under critique.
  • NBC: Fox failed to fully disclose the professional conservative ties of 11 guests featured in segments about critical race theory, among them lobbyists and staff of conservative think tanks.
  • CAP press team gathered for the first time together in 15 months. 
  • Institute of the Black World (IBW): "Think tank of the Black freedom struggle."
  • Think tanks with the most followers post 5-10 times per day.
  • Pic: CFR President Richard Haass gets 10/10 on Room Rater.
  • Think tanks rebrand themselves to sound more warm and bubbly: "Ideas bath."

Monday, August 2, 2021

Brookings & CSIS to Receive Congressional Scrutiny for Exxon Ties

After reports surfaced that ExxonMobil's two most important allies in think tank land are the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), US lawmakers are vowing to look into the energy giant's ties to these think tanks and others.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment, is planning to look into Exxon's ties to think tanks during a broader probe into fossil fuel industry misinformation efforts, according to E&E News, which notes that Exxon used a Brookings paper to help defeat the only major climate legislation that has ever passed the US House.

Exxon's financial support for Brookings "opened doors at the agenda-setting think tank," E&E says, while noting that Exxon is one of four oil and gas companies that have donated at least $100,000 to Brookings in each of the last three years.  The others are Royal Dutch Shell PLC, France’s TotalEnergies SE, and Equinor ASA of Norway.

Here is more from E&E:

That level of giving has secured Exxon a place on Brookings’ Corporate Council. The think tank’s website doesn’t explain what the council is, and [Brookings spokeswoman Andrea Risotto] didn’t respond to questions about the membership, structure and purposes of the group.

But a 2016 menu of “Corporate Council Donor Privileges” promised companies that give Brookings $100,000 or more would receive “a customized program of benefits designed in collaboration with the Senior Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations.”

Brookings deleted the document from its website after E&E News asked about it.

Other perks include “a private meeting” with the think tank’s president, “opportunities to request briefings with Brookings scholars” and invitations to a series of exclusive Brookings receptions, an archived version of the menu says.

 

E&E News reports that Exxon has donated $600,000 to Brookings since 2018, and nearly $2.1 million to CSIS during the same time period.

It also notes that the Center for Global Development (CGD) is among the think tanks that has received significant funding from Exxon.

Other think tanks that Exxon donates to include: American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), and Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).  It also donates to dozens of colleges and universities.

In response to the recent reporting on Exxon's deep ties to think tanks, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) tweeted: "The Swamp in action. Read it and gag."

Monday, July 26, 2021

Heritage Foundation Promoting US-Tunisia Ties

 This is from Foreign Lobby Report:

The Heritage Foundation released a report calling for a “renewed strategic partnership between the United States and Tunisia.” The report’s release follows a meeting between study author Anthony Kim, the editor of the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom, and Tunisian Olfa Hamdi, the short-lived former CEO of national carrier Tunisair and head of the Center for Strategic Studies on Tunisia, a new Washington think tank connected to lobbying firm Cornerstone Government Affairs.

 

Here is more on the Center for Strategic Studies on Tunisia (CSST), which was established as a 501(c)(4), an entity which can engage in much more lobbying than most US think tanks which typically establish themselves as 501(c)(3) entities.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Think Tank Quickies (#421)

  • Supreme Court throws out state law requiring nonprofits to name rich donors; "will make think tanks even less transparent." 
  • Treasury official Wally Adeyemo was hired to establish BlackRock's internal think tank.
  • China Watch is China Daily's "think tank."
  • CSIS has new Open Source Analysis Project.
  • RAND Corp. has a new artist-in-residency program.
  • Letter to US House Judiciary Committee signed by 13 think tanks and advocacy groups warning antitrust bills could "dramatically degrade" tech products. 
  • DGAP: Why German think tanks have to change the way they work.
  • Robin Niblett talk: How can think tanks become incubators for policy innovation?
  • "In academia you sometimes have to work 7 days a week, but the freedom to choose which 7 days is unparalleled; in think tanks you do so for nights, not just days."
  • The Onion: "Brookings released a statement encouraging Americans to start thinking about what form of government they would like to try after democracy crumbles."

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Major Source of Arms Control Funding to Dry Up for Think Tanks

 Here is more from Politico:

For the Washington think tanks and foundations that work to control the spread of nuclear weapons, the Doomsday Clock is inching closer to midnight.

That’s because a leading financial backer of their efforts to reduce nuclear proliferation is ending its support, sending shockwaves through arms control institutions that are already struggling to remain influential.

For more than 40 years, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the United States, has been a primary benefactor of a host of non-profit research centers, academic programs and grassroots organizations dedicated to reversing the spread of nuclear weapons and training a generation of arms control experts.

Since 2015 alone, MacArthur directed 231 grants totaling more than $100 million to “nuclear challenges” — in some cases providing more than half the annual funding for individual institutions or programs.

But its recent conclusion that it wasn't achieving its goals and decision to pull out of the arena could be detrimental without alternative sources of funding, according to multiple veterans of the nuclear policy community.

 

Those receiving funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation include the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Arms Control Association.  Another is the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the organization that operates the Doomsday Clock.

Matthew Bunn, who directs the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, estimates that MacArthur was providing around 45% - 55% of all non-government funding worldwide on nuclear policy.

Here is the MacArthur Foundation's statement mentioning its exit from the nuclear field.

The MacArthur Foundation has given to nearly every major US think tank, including the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Aspen Institute, Atlantic Council, Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Cato Institute, Center for American Progress (CAP), Center for Global Development (CGD), Center for National Policy (CNP), Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Economic Policy Institute (EPI), Hudson Institute, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Middle East Institute (MEI), Migration Policy Institute (MPI), New America, R Street Institute, Resources for the Future (RFF), Stimson Center, Truman Center for National Policy, US Institute of Peace (USIP), Urban Institute, Wilson Center, and World Resources Institute (WRI).

At the end of 2020, MacArthur's assets totaled $8.2 billion.  In June 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the MacArthur Foundation was one of several major institutions that pledged to increase their charitable giving.

Update: In related arms control think tank news, the Federation of American Scientists just released a report using satellite imagery showing that China is building a new network of silos for launching nuclear missiles.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

New Site Tracks Think Tank Funding by Big Tech

 Here is more from Politico:

The American Principles Project (APP), a populist Republican group that has been advocating against the influence of “Big Tech,” is launching a project today that’s certain to stir up debate, as GOP resistance to the influence of Silicon Valley money in Washington escalates.

BigTechFunding.org tracks which nonprofits, think tanks and academic centers receive funding from Facebook, Google, Amazon and/or Apple, based on publicly available disclosures. One of the datasets tracks the tech funding behind 400 groups; the other, which comes with a browser extension, includes 200 groups.

Jon Schweppe, the director of policy and government affairs at the APP, said he launched the project after hearing from staffers on Capitol Hill who were confused about which groups involved in policy debates about the tech sector receive money from those same companies.

The website also offers a “Big Tech Funding Browser Extension,” which adds disclosures to tweets from groups that take money from big tech companies. For instance, the browser extension would add a disclosure that says “Warning: This group is funded by Google, Facebook and Amazon” to tweets from the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, or the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank. Schweppe said he knows it’ll ruffle some feathers.

 

Here is the Big Tech Funding website.  Think Tank Watch took a peek and here are some findings in terms of think tanks receiving big tech money:

  • American Enterprise Institute (AEI): Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Aspen Institute: Facebook, Google
  • Atlantic Council: Facebook Google
  • Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC): Facebook, Amazon
  • Brookings Institution: Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Cato Institute: Facebook, Google
  • Center for a New American Security (CNAS): Google, Amazon
  • Center for American Progress (CAP): Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS): Google, Amazon
  • Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI): Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Council on Foreign Relations (CFR): Facebook
  • Heritage Foundation: Facebook, Google
  • Hudson Institute: Google
  • New America: Facebook, Google, Amazon
  • Niskanen Center: Google
  • R Street Institute: Google, Amazon
  • Third Way: Facebook, Google
  • Urban Institute: Google

 

In June, APP sent a letter to offices on Capitol Hill warning Republican lawmakers and staffers to be wary about Big Tech funding of think tanks and other entities. 

The Heritage Foundation has recently turned down large donations from Facebook and Google.

Heritage is among more than 40 right-leaning research groups that have stopped accepting donations from tech giants.